M.L. King Day Reminds Us That Character Counts

MLKing.Dream

I was a 15-year-old kid beginning my Sophomore year when Dr. King gave his famous “I Have A Dream Speech.   The civil rights movement hadn’t come to rural Indiana.  We had no black neighbors.  There were no black kids in my school.  And no black families attended the church where we worshiped.

It wasn’t until my college years studying speech that I began to appreciate the passion, power and profundity of Dr. King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  And it wasn’t until I began preaching that I began to really develop friendships in the black community.

So, I know that my thoughts and feelings  on the King holiday, observed yesterday, are much different than my African-American brothers and sisters. But I think none can deny that we’ve come a long way since Dr. King implored,  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Fifty years ago bigotry was accepted in many circles. And prejudice was too often demonstrated even by those who called themselves Christians. Today, we have our first black President, who was reelected to a second term.  Many of our African-American citizens have made a substantial mark in fields of education, medicine, science,  literature, sports, entertainment, religion and politics.

But even with our progress, we still face the temptation to superficially judge others by race, ethnicity, social status, or economic success. These measurements will always fail.  Dr. King was right.  Character is paramount.

Though not as famous as the “content of character” quote, Dr. King made many other important observations that relate to character.

Regarding the value of a proper education he once said, “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”

On another occasion, he correctly observed, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and conveniences, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In The Testament of Hope, Dr. King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Speaking to the issue of conscience and ethics, he said, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Martin Luther King encouraged others to serve, to work, and to use whatever talent, ability or opportunity one possessed. He said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

All of these quotes speak to the content of one’s character. Of moral qualities. Ethical standards. Honor and integrity.

Indeed character is the foundation of all other qualities. Goodness. Virtue. Honesty. Courage. Purity. All of these and more are the fruit produced from the root of character. They are the handiwork of thoughts, influences, and relationships. The wise man wrote, “As he thinks in his heart so is he” (Prov 23:7).

So today, examine yourself. What is the content of your character? Do you need a course correction? Do your attitudes and actions pass the “character test”?

As Dr. King once said, “the time is always right to do what is right.” After all, isn’t that what being a person of character means?

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

3 Comments

Filed under character

3 responses to “M.L. King Day Reminds Us That Character Counts

  1. Don Truex

    Ken. Thank you for this excellent post and thoughtful reminder.

  2. Billie

    How times have changed since those days. I honestly don’t believe Christians have those feelings of any difference in races. In our extended family(grandchildren), we have black and chinese as well as white. They are all loved equally and we really see no color(except for the young black one that is a born football player). I remember the days of the 50’s and the feelings of the generations older than myself. There have been many improvements on our perceptions since then. I’m sure that todays Christians do not take race in to account at all. I know that we don’t. Unfortunately, back in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, there were BLACK ONLY CHURCHES OF CHRIST. We’ve come a long way. Thanks for the excellent words.

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